The recession has erased the dividing line between tensions at home and stresses on the job.
Polls show that concerns about jobs and personal finances are paramount for many workers. For example, 47 percent of respondents to a recent Associated Press-GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media poll said they are worried about losing their jobs, 65 percent are at least somewhat worried about paying their bills, and 69 percent are worried that their stocks and retirement investments will drop in value.
Calls to employee assistance programs (EAPs) have been spiking. ComPsych Corp., a Chicago-based global provider of EAP services, says its call volume is about 30 percent above normal, and financial problems have replaced emotional problems as callers’ top concern. The company has received a record number of requests for on-site counseling following layoffs, says ComPsych’s Chief Executive Officer Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, Psy.D.
In ordinary times, conventional stress-reduction tools such as EAP services, wellness and work/life balance programs, and more-accommodating flexible work schedules can be helpful. Stress management books and tapes, concierge services, yoga classes, and one-minute meditation are often helpful, at least marginally.
But today’s stresses are not conventional. Today’s workplace stress is generated in part by fear of the unknown, as opposed to the usual stress of deadlines or people conflict and so forth, Chaifetz says, adding that HR professionals play a role in communicating "what’s happening, what’s expected and reducing these fears."
Many experts say direct antidotes for economic anxiety include financial management education and clear communication about your organization’s current state of affairs.
Leila Bulling Towne, a San Francisco-based executive coach and organizational development consultant, says employers’ most common mistake in dealing with employees’ stress is failure to acknowledge it. "Some leaders believe, falsely, that recognition of the pressures of the day will open up wounds the company is unable to heal, such as an inability to help someone who is losing his house through foreclosure," she says. "An executive thinks, ‘There is nothing we can do, so why speak to a problem for which we have no solution? Best not to say anything.’ "
Employees, however, view such inaction as indifference to the pressures they’re under from the recession and may quickly assume "they don’t care about us," may lose confidence in leaders and may question whether they "know what the heck to do to keep the business afloat."
When employees begin to question strategic and tactical direction, confidence in management diminishes and engagement decreases. In turn, Towne says, "voluntary turnover of top performers and workplace accidents go up, and customer satisfaction, customer retention and profits decrease."